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Reflections on Reflectors: Should They Be Updated Now That More People Are in the Streets?

Screen shot of Liikenneturva webpage, where you can get a look at how well drivers can see you at night from various distances. http://extrat.liikenneturva.fi/heijastin/en/

Screen shot of the Liikenneturva webpage, where you can get a look at how well drivers can see you at night from various distances. http://extrat.liikenneturva.fi/heijastin/en/

Although the shortest day of the year has come and gone (FINALLY), we’ve only gained an extra six and a half minutes of daylight since the solstice.

Which means it still gets dark too darn early and will continue to do so for a while yet.

I am not afraid of riding my bike in the dark. I do, however, dread the winter rush-hour commutes which are made more stressful by the unhappy combination of more intense visual noise and less overall visibility.

Over the past few winters, I’ve been finding that hard-to-see bicyclists have been adding to that stress.

On more than one occasion, I’ve been riding a busy street like Main or Central (in South L.A.) and found myself narrowly avoiding a head-on collision with another cyclist coming directly at me out of the dark.

Because they are almost never wearing light-colored clothing, sporting any kind of reflective gear, or using lights, I sometimes don’t see them until we are almost on top of each other. And, as most are on cruisers or shoddy mountain bikes and are not particularly nimble riders (save a few fast-moving kids on fixies), I tend to be the one that has to make the last-minute panicked maneuver into traffic or in between parked cars to give them space to pass.

While bicycle traffic is kind of a nice problem to have, it puts us both in danger and I could probably do without the added adrenaline rush.

My beef is not with the bicyclists, however. Read more…

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NYC’s First Speed Cameras Will Go Into Effect When Kids Head Back to School

Mayor Bloomberg joined Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and NYPD Chief of Transportation James Tuller outside a Crown Heights high school this morning to announce the impending launch of the city’s first automated speed enforcement program. Cameras issuing fines for drivers who exceed the speed limit by 10 mph or more will begin operating on September 9, when students head back to school, though for the first few weeks the program will only send violators warnings.

On Eastern Parkway this morning, Bloomberg addressed the need to enforce the NYC speed limit. Photo: @JohnSurico

Speeding was the leading cause of traffic deaths in NYC last year, contributing to 81 fatal crashes. Still, the state law enabling automated enforcement of the speed limit — which passed after several previous attempts had died in Albany — includes several restrictions. The city has just 20 cameras to work with, and they can only be placed within a quarter-mile of schools. They can’t be operated at times when classes or after-school activities are not in session. On the plus side, the city will be able to move the cameras to different locations, providing some flexibility that should help reduce egregious speeding on a greater share of NYC’s 6,000-mile street network.

To prevent motorists from selectively slowing down near known camera locations, the city is not disclosing the locations of these enforcement cameras. However, the site of today’s press event — W.E.B. DuBois High School on Eastern Parkway and Bedford Avenue — is “a candidate to receive speed camera technology nearby due to a high crash rate in its vicinity,” according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

“Keeping streets safe for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians is one of the most important public safety challenges any government faces,” Bloomberg said in the announcement. “Our streets are the safest they have ever been, due in large part to our enforcement efforts and innovative traffic engineering that have brought traffic fatalities to record lows. Curbing speeding around schools will help us continue to make our City’s streets safer for everyone.”

The cameras will start monitoring speeds on the first day of the school year, September 9, but the mayor’s office says the $50 fines for violators won’t start until a few weeks later:

DOT will begin the five-year program with a combination of fixed and mobile cameras at unspecified locations, which will be determined based upon factors such as crash and injury data, rates of speed and road geometry. During the initial weeks of the program and in order to send a message to speeders, DOT will only issue warning notices to motorists found on camera to be speeding in excess of 10 or more miles above the posted speed limit before eventually issuing $50 fines for the offense. Violations would be issued to the vehicle owner and will be adjudicated by the New York Parking Violations Bureau.

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Public Safety Committee Acknowledges the Hit and Run Crisis, LAPD Not So Much.

Council Members Mitch O'Farrell, Joe Buscaino, Mitch Englander and Mike Bonin listen to testimony from last week's hearing. Photo: Don Ward

In Los Angeles, according to LAPD crime statistics for 2011, 1273 cyclists and pedestrians were victims of hit and run crimes. In other words every single day, 3 or 4 cyclists and pedestrians become hit and run victims within Los Angeles city limits. Of these, 26 people walking or biking died as a result of the collision in which a motorist fled the scene. Another 10 victims were killed while in cars.

Mind numbing.

Because LAPD traffic division response time can typically take an hour or more to respond to collisions and with LAPD officers known to actively discourage filing reports for minor or no injury hit and runs, there is no telling what the true extent of the crisis is. Years of public comments and protests by cycling and pedestrian advocates including a focused Police Commission public comment action last year have only begun to garner the kind of attention needed to begin to solve this.

Last Friday, members of the LAPD came before the Public Safety Committee to present their report on the extent of LA’s hit and run crisis. The hearing followed a request by Councilman Buscaino in the wake of an LA Weekly exposé last December that brought light to this staggering reality on our streets. Based on the language of that report… the LAPD leadership does not yet appear ready to tackle the issue.

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Several members of the “all powerful bicycle lobby,” including myself, made the early morning trip to City Hall thanks to a special LA Bike Trains group ride. Having released the report to the police commission weeks before we already knew the report was a disappointment in many ways. But this was a chance to hear what the Council Members thought and to deliver another round of public comment.

Having attended many disappointing City Council meetings over the years I had no reason to feel optimistic about this one. The formula usually goes something like… livable streets advocates show up with pitch forks, LAPD / LADOT make excuses / naysay / not feasible, politicians feign interest / read their Blackberrys and / or Tom LaBonge talks about critical mass and outlaw bike riders.

But this meeting was different – stacked with freshmen councilmembers – it struck me as a bit of a sea change.

Not only were these Council Members engaged, they were speaking nuanced livable streets language. At one point Council Member Bonin corrected LAPD Deputy Chief Downing for invoking Critical Mass as a causation for hit and run crimes stating: “The typical hit and run victim is not riding on Critical Mass.” This was immediately received with applause from the audience. Given the chance, I would have politely whispered to Chief Downing that the LAPD has been escorting a very peaceful amicable Critical Mass now for years… but I digress. Read more…

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Conjecture Versus Statistics: Spring Street Letters Show Differences in Style

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that delays in politics rarely offer good news for those with facts on their side. This is especially true when the political powers that be suddenly develop a case of collective laryngitis.

Which is why the news that the Los Angeles City Council hearing and vote on the future of the Spring Street Green Buffered Bike Lane was delayed again is almost certainly bad news. The hearing, originally scheduled for last Friday then re-scheduled for today, is now scheduled for tomorrow at 10 am. For now.

But while we wait, and wait, for a final decision and the long-awaited showdown between the Film and Television Industry and Downtown businesses, residents, bicyclists, pedestrians, Neighborhood Councils and everyone that just likes a safe place to walk, bicycle or be outside; two letters sent to the City Council do a better job of telling the story thus far than I ever could.

But first, some brief background. In November of 2011, after an impressive outreach among Downtown stakeholders, the City of Los Angeles re-striped Spring Street through the historic core. The new design, part of a pilot program, put a painted buffer between mixed-use travel lanes and bicycle lanes. It also painted the Southbound bicycle lane green. A similar plan for Main Street, running parallel but northbound, was scrapped at the request of the Film and Television Industry. When the LADOT planned to repaint the lanes, they were blocked by a request for “more outreach” for at least the past two months by Council Members Tom LaBonge and Eric Garcetti. During the outreach, a group of compromises were proposed, but the industry walked away from every compromise that didn’t cause a re-design that wouldn’t pass federal guidelines for road markings.

In other words, they refused any compromise that wasn’t a poison pill for the project.

The first, written by the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, expresses support for repainting the lanes, using statistics gathered by the LACBC and their own consultants, as well as listing a myriad of supporters of the projects. The second, on letter head with logos of three film unions, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Association of Independent Commercial Producers, expresses their displeasure with the lanes and uses hyperbole to state their case.

Some samples: Read more…

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Shameless plug: Join us tonight for a discussion of California’s Road Rules for Bicyclists with the LACBC

Just a quick note before we get on with the rest of the day’s news.

I’ll be speaking tonight as part of a panel discussing the Road Rules for Bicyclists, along with Sgt. Jon Aufdemberg, LAPD South Traffic Division, Bicycle Liaison; James L. Pocrass, Attorney, Pocrass & De Los Reyes, LLP; Cynthia Rose, Co-Founder, Santa Monica Spoke; and Lt. Marjory Jacobs of the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

Presented by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, the panel discussion will mark the official unveiling of the coalition’s excellent new Bike Safe Rules of the Road pocket guide. Free refreshments and bicycle parking will be provided.

When: Wednesday, May 22; 7 – 8:30 PM
Where: LACBC Headquarters, Edison Room (1st Floor) – 634 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, 90014
Admission: FREE for LACBC Members
 / $10 General Public

Hope to see you there!

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Have You Ever Been Harassed on the Bus?

(Note: When Streetsblog first launched, we were taken to task by the writing team at The Bus Bench for reporting about the dangers of cycling and harassment from drivers, but never the risks taken by transit riders, especially those riding after hours. We’ve gotten better on this issue, Sahra Sulaiman’s piece on THAT GUY and our ongoing coverage of the dangers posed by LASD Sheriffs only touch the issue. In the wake of a story of a group of women being assaulted on a bus in New Delhi, Dana Gabbard wonders how prevalent harassment is on Metro and other transit buses. If you have a story you’re willing to share, please do so in the comments section or you can do so privately by emailing me, damien@streetsblog.org. – DN)

Japan has "women only" rail cars because of rampant harassment on their subways. Rocket News

One morning last week while getting ready for work I was especially taken when hearing these comments on National Public Radio’sMorning Edition about the creation of women-only compartments on New Delhi’s metro system as a safety measure against inappropriate behavior by male passengers:

Male and female perceptions of the problem can differ widely.

Rajesh Kumar travels in the general compartment with his female colleague Manisha Murli. He says out of 100 men, “perhaps two or three” engage in Eve-teasing or unwanted touching.

But Murli disagrees. “It’s not that little,” she protests, putting it around 50 or 60 percent of the men.

It reminds me when looking over some online comments on my apartment building I ran across one in which a women resident complained that while working out in our gym that she noticed one of the male residents was looking her over in a way the creeped her out by being obvious objectification. Read more…

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Irony Alert: L.A. Weekly Story Mocks Cyclist Right to Lane Appears Next to Story of Fatal Dooring

Slow news day?

Must be a slow news day.

Dennis Romero at L.A. Weekly hasn’t exactly been a friend to the cycling community, this is the same writer who referred to CicLAvia as “Mayor Villaraigosa’s Bike Ride Pipe Dream” in the runup to 10/10/10. Today’s column is little more than a weird mocking of Metro’s “Every Lane is a Bike Lane” campaign designed to inform drivers that cyclists can take full use of a mixed-use travel lane. It’s a typical half-thought-out attack on a government agency trying to do the right thing: Metro is incompetent and out of touch and here’s the silly thing they’re doing.

To whit:

Yes. In an effort to make L.A. urban traffic slow down even more, Metro, the folks behind the bus and the subway, remind you that bicyclists have the same right to hold up traffic as any little old lady driver from Pasadena.

Sort of:

If you were a little old lady, Mexican gardener, elder, Iranian man, or any combination thereof, and you did 15 miles an hour down Wilshire Boulevard in your Oldsmobile, 1978 Toyota pickup, or Mercedes E Class when everyone else was doing 45, you could get a ticket.

If you’re interested in a full take-down of Romero’s piece, Ted Rogers does a thorough debunking in the comments section at L.A. Weekly. Read more…

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How Far is Too Far?: Fortress USC and the Struggle to Keep Students Safe

New security gates appeared along Exposition Blvd. recently as part of USC's effort to make its campus more secure for students. (photo courtesy of Jonathan Weiss)

*For continued coverage of profiling issues around campus please click here and here.

WHEN I BEGAN MY GRAD PROGRAM at USC in 2001, I lived north of campus a few blocks on Hoover Street. As my daylight hours were generally occupied with classes and teaching responsibilities, I tended to get my long-distance runs in well after dark. Instead of being able to clear my head as I did figure-eights around campus and Exposition Park, however, I was often stopped by police who wanted to know what the hell I thought I was doing.

“Don’t you know bad things happen around here?” I was asked when stopped along King Blvd. one night. “There are drug dealers in that house right there,” an officer said, pointing to one of the houses across the street.

“I’m not in the market for any drugs, officer,” I told him.

“You don’t get it,” he said, exasperated. “It isn’t safe around here. This is a bad area. You shouldn’t be here.”

He was wrong. I did get it.

What I got was that USC and those asked to police the area felt that the best way to keep students safe was to warn them against their neighbors and keep them segregated. The less cross-over, the less chance for problems to arise.

The effort to enforce this segregation was multi-fold. My students reported being warned at orientation to be wary of the community — the long-time inhabitants of the neighborhood. Meanwhile, youth from the area who walked on or near the campus were hassled by the police and on-campus security, asked about who they were, where they were headed, and what business they had being there.

Speaking to local youth participating in a walk on and around campus last year, Dyane Pascall, a young African-American resident of the area and Director of Finance and Administration for Community Services Unlimited, recounted that because he and another staff member had been hassled by police so often when walking near USC — not even on campus — they had both decided to alter their routes to avoid the demoralizing aggravation of being constantly stopped.

For some of my (USC) students, the divide seemed unbridgeable. Many regularly bad-mouthed the community: “It’s such a shitty area;” “There’s nothing around here;” and the oddly self/image-conscious, “People look down on USC because it is in such a ghetto-ass neighborhood.” Read more…

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How a Crop of Women Activists Is Making Long Beach Safer for Bikes, Everyone

We keep getting safer here in Long Beach—and as a rather stereotypical boy whose palate leans towards danger and risk (or what my fair counterparts rightfully call stupidity), this makes me happy. And it was of no shock to me that the first ever all-female class of League Cycling Instructors (LCI) accredited by the League of American Bicyclist graduated nine women this past month from Long Beach: Jessica Alexander, Krista Leaders, Bernadette McKeever, Elizabeth Williams, Maria Sipin, Henriette Alamillo, Renee Jones, Machiko Yasuda and Nayely Limon

Melissa Balmer Photo: Frank Peters/Women on Bikes So. Cal

One need not preach of the importance of women in bicycling. As with any other endeavor on the planet, the inclusion of women is essential if one wishes said endeavor to continue in success. And with regards to bicycling, one simply has to look at the work of Leah Missbach Day to comprehend the impact of women.

Melissa Balmer understood this in more ways than one when in November 2011 she created the Women on Bikes SoCal program to celebrate the “Joy, Beauty and Benefits of Bicycling for Women. Inspired by Andrea White-Kjoss’s first Women on Bikes bike safety training/bike scholarship program for at risk women in Long Beach while Andrea was CEO of Bikestation (the nation’s first public bike parking facilities launched fifteen years ago from Long Beach) Balmer very much wants Women on Bikes SoCal to be able to replicate this type of program in the future, but decided the first step was to create more top trained female bicycle safety trainers.

Balmer did her homework. She knew the League’s LCI program was the most prestigious in the country and found out that there were only three women in total for South L.A., East L.A., the South Bay and Long Beach who held the LCI accreditation – and none of these women appeared to be teaching. The program is expensive to take so she realized it needed to be offered as a scholarship in order to attract the most talented and dedicated participants.  Elizabeth Williams, a graduate of the recent Long Beach LCI class who participated as a bike safety instructor for Andrea’s program, was one of the first people Balmer thought of when she began putting the scholarship idea together.

“We are the so-called ‘indicator’ species,” Balmer explains. “When we feel safe to ride, then we’re ok with our families riding too. And when men see women riding—let’s be honest, they’re like, ‘Gee, if she can ride a bike out, I can too!’”

Balmer——while driven by the previous program, saw a larger focus: while hoping that her own organization could one day provide such essentials to all groups at-risk, there was a larger need for professionally driven women instructors. There is a two-way street between drivers and bicyclists, where each side fosters uneducated and unpredictable maneuvers and behaviors that only exacerbate the tension between the two.

“The rate of bicycle riding in Long Beach is booming,” Balmer continued, “but many of these new riders simply don’t know how to ride their bikes safely.

Graduate Jessica Alexander concurs noting, “Long Beach has done a great job of increasing the biking infrastructure, encouraging more people to get out and enjoy getting around on their bicycles. However, there needs to be more information getting out to bicyclists on how to use this new infrastructure and ride on the streets correctly. Just because they are on a bicycle does not mean they should get a free pass to ride wherever and however they want.

Graduate Krista Leaders explains more directly with regards to Bixby Knolls when she says, “There is very little bike infrastructure outside of a bike lane [on Bixby Road] and a bunch of bike racks in the business district. In order for this area to become a biking community, we have to become educated on how to navigate the streets safely and perfect our bike handling skills—without bike infrastructure.”

Leaders and Balmer’s point is not unfounded: not only are bicyclists up in numbers, but so are accidents and a lack of knowledge about the rules of the road.

And even further, as a testament beyond the city-driven measures geared towards safety, Women on Bikes SoCal’s larger, macro-goal was just as simple: to create no or low cost—not to mention time efficient—classes geared towards safety that evaded the high-cost of the League’s LCI training while also coinciding with the city’s larger safety program. Read more…

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Long Beach Unveils Plan to Make “Most Bike Friendly City” the Safest Too

Click on the image of the "pocket guide" for more on Share Our Streets

Glance to the right of this article and you’ll see ads geared towards bike safety. Sift through the work of this site and you’ll find endless accounts of dooring, commuter frustration, measures to keep one safe, how to “properly” ride a bicycle, riding on sidewalks… The list is as exhaustive as it is important despite its seeming redundancy.

Graphic: City of Long Beach

And Long Beach is taking impressive steps forward in maintaining an aura of safety–particularly as the number of bicycle-related crashes rise with the increasing number of cyclists.

The analysis of these crashes over the past 10 years by Bike Long Beach prove fascinating. According to the numbers, 45% of bike-related crashes are caused by error on behalf of the cyclist, with 35% due to a motorist, and the other 20% undetermined. And the vast majority of these crashes, somewhere around 80%, are due to five main causes:

  • Cyclist riding on the wrong side of the road
  • Cyclist partaking in unsafe maneuvers
  • Cyclist running a stop light or stop sign
  • Motorist running a stop light or stop sign
  • Motorist making an unaware turn

The first and the last account for about 55% of all bicycle-related crashes. What makes the data more fascinating is the fact that, despite who was at fault, a driver was involved 40% of the time, mostly making a right hand turn.

“From a safety perspective,” said Allan Crawford, Bicycle Coordinator for the city, “bicyclists can at times be our own worst enemy. Almost 50% of all accidents that are caused by the bicyclist are related to either riding the wrong way or failing to yield the right-of-way to a vehicle.”

To help curb these numbers and educate the masses, the “Share The Streets” campaign–a collaborative effort between Bike Long Beach, The City of Long Beach, Long Beach Transit, and Metro–has been launched. One can easily call one of the most comprehensive cycling safety programs initiated by a municipality. Read more…